Monday, April 11, 2016


"These researchers don’t just track the weather, they fly right into it" PBS NewsHour 4/6/2016


SUMMARY:  When weather events like El Niño impose themselves, everybody on the planet feels it.  Scientists are getting better at predicting El Niño, but there is still a lot they don't know amid an absence of data.  Science correspondent Miles O'Brien follows along as weather scientists gather information in Hawaii by air and by sea.

Editor’s note: In the story we incorrectly identified the Jason-3 oceanography satellite as a partnership between NASA and the European Space Agency.  It is in fact a four-partner mission between NOAA, NASA, France’s space agency CNES and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, with NOAA as the lead agency.

MILES O’BRIEN (NewsHour):  It’s another beautiful day in sunny Hawaii.  A Gulfstream G4 jet spools up its engines and taxis for departure.

The plane is the ultimate in business jet luxury, in this case minus the luxury.  Nicknamed Gonzo, it is owned and operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, and the business is scientific research on one of the most significant weather patterns on the planet, El Niño.

They make a beeline from good weather to bad.

MAN:  Positive rate.  Gear up, gear up.  Heading and altitude?  Verified.

MILES O’BRIEN:  The cabin is filled with researchers using sophisticated equipment.  They are part of a scientific campaign on multiple fronts, deploying satellites, drones, planes, balloons, surface ships and buoys, all focused on the largest El Niño in nearly 20 years.

BILL PATZERT, NASA Climatologist:  El Niños come small, medium, large and what I’m fond of calling is Godzilla.

MILES O’BRIEN:  Veteran NASA climatologist Bill Patzert has studied El Niño his entire career.  He watches the weather from a perch in space via the Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California.  Launched in January, the Jason-3 oceanography satellite is the fourth in a series NASA and the European Space Agency have deployed to monitor El Niño and sea level rise since the early ’90s.

BILL PATZERT:  When these events impose themselves on the climate system, everybody on the planet feels it.  And the droughts, floods are spectacular and they’re global.

MILES O’BRIEN:  Here’s what makes an El Niño tick:  Normally, trade winds blow from the east westward across the Pacific Ocean.  This creates a mound of water near Indonesia that is as much as 10 degrees warmer and 1.5 feet higher than the water off the coast of Ecuador.

During an El Niño year, the trade winds either stop, or blow in the opposite direction, transporting the mound of warm water to the east.

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